In her new novel, The Same Sky, Austin author Amanda Eyre Ward takes on the timely and relevant subjects of immigration and American privilege. Shifting by chapter between the story of Alice, an Austin woman struggling to adopt a child with her husband, and Carla, a twelve year old girl making the trip from Tegucigalpa, Honduras to Texas, Ward highlights the significant disparity between perspectives north and south of the border. The Same Sky is a book that works to understand our community; not just our neighborhoods in Austin, but America as a whole.
We’re excited to host the launch party for The Same Sky here at BookPeople on Wednesday, January 28th at 7pm.
If you can’t make it to the event, you can take advantage of Amanda’s very kind offer to sign and personalize all copies of The Same Sky pre-ordered from BookPeople.
The Same Sky will be on our shelves January 20th. We had a quick chat with Amanda about the book in advance of its release.
BookPeople: How did you come to write about Alice and Carla? Where did the idea for The Same Sky originate?
Amanda Eyre Ward: I had been working on a novel for three years and it just wasn’t coming together. Finally, my agent told me I had to set it aside. (I remember the day perfectly–it was raining and I was parked in front of Mockingbird Domestics on South Lamar–I’d pulled over when my agent called. I thought she was going to tell me the book was awesome, but instead she said, “You need to listen to me. This book isn’t working. You have to start something new.”)
I basically drank Chardonnay and cried for a month or two. Then I read a book called Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario, an amazing nonfiction account of a boy making his way from Honduras to his mom in California. I became obsessed with the stories of kids crossing the border, but didn’t now how I’d research their stories–I don’t even speak Spanish!
I went to my son’s Kindergarten Cowboy Day, and happened to mention Enrique’s Journey to a friend. She said, “Have you met Lexi?” She pulled me over to another mom in a cowboy hat: Alexia Rodriguez, who is the Vice President of Immigrant Children’s Services/Legal Counsel for Southwest Key. Lexi was holding her phone, getting updates about a boy they’d found in the desert outside Tijuana the day before…he was in the hospital recovering. She told me she could take me to Brownsville later in the week and translate the kids’ stories for me. It was incredible–within days, I was sitting across from kids who’d made it to the US, hearing about their journeys, their fears, their hopes for life in the US. The whole book came together in my mind very quickly…I dreamed of Carla, and knew I had to get her to her mother.
BP: Alice and Carla’s stories are told in alternating chapters. Did you write the book this way, moving back and forth between their perspectives, or was that structure created after you had their separate narratives laid out?
AEW: That’s a great question. I knew how the story would work from the start–I literally dreamed the entire arc once night in Brownsville. But when Carla was in the middle of her journey, I went ahead and wrote her sections first…I couldn’t bear to leave her in Chiapas or along the Rio Grande. And then, once I’d gotten her to safety, I went back and wrote Alice’s sections to catch up.
BP: What was your research process like for this book and for Carla’s story in particular?
AEW: I can’t wait to talk about this at my January 28 BookPeople reading–Lexi will be interviewed with me by Clay Smith, Editor in Chief of Kirkus Reviews. Lexi brought me to Brownsville and San Diego shelters. She stood in front of kids in the cafeteria or their common room and asked if anyone wanted to tell me their story. Then she (or another staff member) translated as each kid (from the ages of 5 to 18) came into a room and spoke. It was exhausting, amazing–I felt so honored that they would share their stories with me…but I felt useless wanting to help them, especially the kids who’d been through the worst of it, and the girls who were pregnant.
BP: Alice’s chapters are infused with the life and landscape of Austin. What compelled you to make the city such a vivid part of her story?
AEW: I’ve been in Austin now (with a brief, ill-advised hiatus on the East Coast) for over 15 years. However, it was Carla’s story that brought me to the Eastside, and I loved spending time there (I wrote in Eastside cafes, hung around bars and churches and parks and schools there, even sitting in the corner of a high school homecoming dance!). Austin is endlessly interesting to me.
BP: What do we have to look forward to at your BookPeople launch party?
AEW: The Hispanic Alliance for the Arts is sending a string quartet made up of students from East Austin College Prep (the same kids I spied on during their Homecoming football game and dance). Clay Smith will interview me with Lexi, and we’ll have a margarita machine. I cannot wait. This is the book I’m most proud of, and I am thrilled to celebrate its publication at the best bookstore in the world.